Every year on Dec. 31, the approach of midnight finds us drawing a line in time. The way we do this varies — we eat black-eyed peas, or fling open the windows, or run into an icy ocean — but the idea is always the same. On this night, we put something behind us and seal it off, so it is part of the past. And then we try to begin again.
It is difficult to imagine any year when our need of this ritual has been greater. Many of us have lost those dearest to us, and absorbed those losses in isolation. Livelihoods have been wiped away like vapor from a window. And yet, without the fireworks, the giddiness of crowds, we have never been so constrained in our rituals.
That does not mean we are not celebrating. Inside lighted rooms, we will raise glasses to the people who sacrificed for us, to the triumphant performance of our health care workers, and to a thousand small kindnesses already receding from memory. Yeah, yeah, the end of a year may be an illusion, just a way to trick ourselves into keeping going. But we made it.
Asia and pacific roundup
For much of China it looked set to be a subdued New Year’s Eve, as the customary light shows, fireworks and temple festivals were suspended or canceled as officials focused on controlling a smattering of small new outbreaks of the coronavirus, most notably in the capital Beijing and the northern city of Shenyang.
Yet there was one notable exception: Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December 2019.
The central Chinese city that spent the beginning of 2020 closed off to the world under harsh lockdowns went ahead with boisterous festivities, including a concert by the city’s philharmonic orchestra; a discussion by the famed talk-show host Luo Zhenyu; a light show along the Yangtze River, which runs through Wuhan; and a cyberpunk electronic music festival.
Shanghai Disneyland had said it was going ahead with fireworks, but Beijing and Guangzhou canceled annual light shows.
Even with many events canceled, life in China, where infections are few, is far closer to normal than other places. Small gatherings and meals are sure to continue, as the country’s population awaits rules on what will happen during Chinese New Year, a major holiday based on the lunar calendar which will take place in February. Usually hundreds of millions head home to visit family, eat meals and shoot off fireworks, but already some provinces have warned people not to make the trip this year.
Elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific:
The small Pacific island nation of Samoa became one of the first places in the world to welcome the new year, 19 hours ahead of the Eastern United States. On the nearby island of Tonga, an overnight curfew that has been in place since March as part of the country’s coronavirus response was temporarily lifted for the night. Tonga is one of the few countries that has recorded no coronavirus cases, but gatherings are still limited and residents are required to socially distance.
The annual fireworks display at Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, which normally attracts over a million people, was mainly seen on TV or online, as the government limited access to the area. Outside the Sydney Opera House, musicians performed to an empty venue, live-streamed around the country.
In Japan, worshipers traditionally flood into shrines and temples on New Year’s Eve to welcome the new year. But in an effort to limit crowds, the gates at the popular Meiji Shrine in Tokyo were closed at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
Thousands of spectators attended a fireworks show in Taipei, Taiwan, where the mood was celebratory. Taiwan has been among the few success stories during the coronavirus pandemic, having recorded a total of only 799 cases and seven deaths.
The usually rowdy New Year’s Eve revelry in the Philippines, punctuated by firecrackers and the firing of guns into the air, has been muted this year, with nearly all local governments banning the practice in order to prevent injuries and because everyone is not in the mood to celebrate.
By 11 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, the supply of craft ale at liquor stores in the popular beach town of Raglan was already somewhat depleted, as throngs of New Zealanders prepared to be among the first to bid farewell to a thoroughly unusual year.
With the threat of the pandemic all but banished from its shores, at least for now, New Zealanders have approached the holiday season much as they ordinarily do.
From mid-December, the country slides into a kind of weekslong summer daze, as city workers flee for scenic spots along the coasts and countryside. Schools close until February, public radio adopts summer programming — less news, more tunes and cricket commentary — and dry cleaners and cafes on even Auckland’s busiest streets shut for weeks at a time.
On New Year’s Eve itself, Aucklanders gathered at beachside neighborhoods to watch a five-minute midnight firework display over the harbor. Groups of friends toasted the new year, which arrived at 6 a.m. Eastern, at barbecues at rural holiday homes. And in Gisborne, on the east coast, thousands of revelers together counted down to 2021 at Rhythm and Vines, which bills itself as “the first festival in the world to welcome in the first sunrise of the New Year.”
Masks remained optional throughout, and were rarely worn.
To stave off the threat of another coronavirus outbreak over the summer months, the New Zealand government has introduced improved Bluetooth-powered contact tracing and pushed to maintain high levels of hand-washing. Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s director-general of health, made a video appearance to cheering crowds at Rhythm and Vines and other events across New Zealand, as he urged them to “unite against Covid-19,” over booming dubstep-inflected beats.
The promise of a warm New Zealand summer, along with its Covid-free status, has lured many New Zealanders overseas back home over the Christmas and New Year break for weeks or months at a time.
After being released from two weeks’ mandatory hotel quarantine, Jack Murphy, 33, an advertising planner based in Dublin, spent the evening with friends from high school at a holiday home in Raglan.
Experiencing the pandemic in Ireland, which is set to enter another strict lockdown, had cast summer in New Zealand into even sharper relief, he said. “It’s made all the more special by how privileged and lucky we are to be here, and to come home.”
In the hierarchy of holiday traditions, there is but one that combines mystery, allure, romance and potentially confetti: the New Year’s Eve midnight kiss. It also offers the benefit, according to superstition, of preventing a year of loneliness.
What could be a better way to end a year of trials and tribulations than to lose yourself in the eyes of a beautiful stranger as you count down the last seconds of 2020 and celebrate with a smooch?
“That would be an absolutely not,” said John O’Horo, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “Kissing a stranger would be pretty much at the top of the list of things that could have potential for spread.”
But, you might be thinking, what if I’ve been vaccinated? Still no.
What if I had the virus already? You probably shouldn’t risk it.
What if my partner and I wear masks as we smush our faces together? A slight improvement, Dr. O’Horo said, but still not advisable. (Experts recommend a combination or social distancing and mask wearing to prevent spread).
Some historians trace the kissing tradition to Saturnalia, a days-long Roman pagan festival held in mid-December. Later German and English folklore said that the first person you come in contact with in the new year “dictated that year’s destiny,” according to “Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl.”
The superstitious say a kiss — or lack thereof — could mean 12 months of continued affection or loneliness, according to Pete Geiger, the editor of the Farmer’s Almanac.
A frequent plotline in popular culture, like “When Harry Met Sally,” the tradition is widespread. In 1863, The Times reported that ”hearty kisses” were exchanged “like rolls of labial musketry” at the stroke of midnight at a New York City celebration. At the Times Square festivities for 2011, Nivea distributed 30,000 samples of lip balm to revelers.
But this year might be the time to break from tradition, said Frank Esper, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, who noted that kissing a stranger goes against the “holy trinity” of social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing.
The first populated area of the United States to escape 2020 did so at 9 a.m. Eastern in subdued fashion. Bars and nightclubs were closed in Guam, a U.S. territory that sits between Japan and Australia, and fireworks shows were canceled.
With few tourists on the island because of the coronavirus, some locals booked hotel staycation packages. But increased grocery sales of meat and alcohol suggested that many of the 170,000 residents planned to celebrate at home.
Another hot-ticket item: fruit.
“There is a belief that if you start the new year with 13 round fruits, then your whole year will have good luck,” said Kathy Calvo, the chief executive of Pay-Less Supermarkets.
Guam became a focal point during the pandemic when the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt docked there in late March with a growing outbreak onboard. It was a challenging year, in particular, for the island’s tourism industry, and there are hopes 2021 will be different.
Josh Tyquiengco, who works for the local tourism bureau, appreciated a quiet New Year’s Eve evening at home during which he could reflect. He said he had struggled to cope with pandemic-related stress and fatigue but was now feeling optimistic.
“While there is a lot of fear and uncertainty in the world right now,” Mr. Tyquiengco said, “being grateful has helped me get through the last several months.”
How to commemorate the end of a year of widespread unemployment, racial unrest and political animosity, not to mention an ongoing pandemic? If you’re at home looking for a festive yet socially distanced way to bid farewell to 2020, consider taking a virtual trip around the world.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, which typically involve processions, fireworks and singing, will be held online. In Paris, the composer-performer Jean-Michel Jarre will host a free livestreamed concert from a studio near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. And you can virtually head to Rio de Janeiro for a light show along Copacabana beach at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Tomorrowland, a Belgian music festival franchise, is hosting a party with performers including David Guetta, the French D.J. and producer. Steve Aoki, the D.J., musician and music producer, will headline an event streamed by Grand Park in Los Angeles. Justin Bieber, KISS and Chris Potter, a jazz saxophonist, are among the other performers selling tickets to virtual concerts.
In New York City, a crystal ball will still drop from One Times Square, complete with confetti and “Auld Lang Syne.” A livestream of the event starts at 6 p.m. Eastern, and it will be covered on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” hosted by Ryan Seacrest on ABC, and “CNN’s New Year’s Eve,” hosted by Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen.
If you’re looking for something less glamorous and more in keeping with the 2020 aesthetic, check out the bologna drop in Lebanon, Pa., or the giant potato drop in Boise, Idaho, or watch Marshall Muskrat, a stuffed muskrat who will be wearing a mask in addition to his signature top hat and cape, drop in Princess Anne, Md., at midnight.
Whether you’re ringing in the new year with Champagne and caviar or with a lucky plate of black-eyed peas and greens, the Cooking staff at The Times has compiled recipe ideas for a celebration at home.
Start the night off by mixing yourself a Grown-Up Granita, Mark Bittman’s take on the slushy Italian dessert usually made from water, sugar and fruit. In this version, you mix a good-quality sorbet with gin. Pour into champagne flutes, top with Prosecco, garnish with mint leaves and serve immediately.
Another option is this Champagne Cocktail, a recipe Mr. Bittman calls “appropriately celebratory and bittersweet.” Stir bitters, lemon juice and maple syrup in a flute. When combined, add the Champagne.
Simple Steak au Poivre is easy and elegant. Another great option, with ingredients you may already have, is Alison Roman’s Caramelized Shallot Pasta, one of our most popular recipes of the year. Any type of pasta will do.
New Year’s Eve Sweets
This Lisbon Chocolate Cake is a dense-but-not-heavy, brownielike cake topped with a whipped chocolate ganache and a substantial dusting of cocoa. For something lighter, the Meyer Lemon Tart, writes Amanda Hesser, is the ideal way to showcase the fruit’s fragrance and flavor. (Regular lemons will work well in this recipe, too, but you’ll likely want to add a bit more sugar.)
The Hangover Cure
When you wake up on Jan. 1, we recommend starting the day with a green juice by Matthew Kenney, an acclaimed raw-food chef in California. Later, to help with any hangovers, try this baked macaroni and cheese recipe by Julia Moskin.